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Florida Almost Lined Up Utah Instead of Charleston Southern

You know how ESPN has been trying to line up good games at the beginning of seasons? Well, looks like there's one that got away.

According to Urban Meyer, Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley and, he thinks, ESPN got together to discuss the possibilities of having Florida open the season by playing Utah instead of Charleston Southern. Meyer says he wasn't a part of the negotiations so he doesn't know any details, but he was "excited" at the possibility since Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham is one of his closest friends.

It would have been juicy from a historical standpoint, since Meyer coached at Utah before taking the job at Florida, and from a current events standpoint at Utah got the second-most first place votes in the final 2008 AP Poll. It also would have been about a 1,000,000% upgrade from I-AA Charleston Southern, and it would have likely ended the mostly legitimate discussions about UF playing a relatively soft schedule this season.

What could have torpedoed the negotiations? I have a guess. Of the three early season games I know ESPN helped engineer, one is a conference game (the rescheduled Texas-Texas Tech game that's now in September for ABC to cover) and two are non-conference games. Those two non-conference games are Alabama-Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome and BYU-Oklahoma in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium.

That second piece on information would lead me to guess that ESPN (and probably Utah too) wanted it to be a neutral site game in an NFL stadium like Jacksonville, Tampa, or Miami. Utah is too established a program at this point to do a one-and-done payday game (except with Notre Dame, apparently) as it has home-and-home contests scheduled with Oregon, Pitt, and Washington State in the coming years. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Utes didn't want to visit Gainesville without a return trip (quoth Meyer: "Well, we weren't going to go to Utah").

So failing a fall-through of neutral site negotiations, the other most likely possibility to me is that Florida balked at Utah's asking price. Utah is getting $950,000 from Notre Dame for its one-and-done, while Florida is paying Charleston Southern only $450,000 (by comparison, Troy gets $500,000 and FIU $425,000). Everything about the way Florida makes its schedules revolves around money, so it would be completely in character to reject this one over cost.

Besides, the Charleston Southern game is going to be on TV in the southeast anyway thanks to SunSports/Fox Sports South. It's entirely possible that Florida is making more with regional coverage and CSU's much smaller cover charge than it would have with Utah and national TV. If that's the case, then a Florida-Utah game never had a chance.

It discourages me because as a Gator fan, I'd like to see UF face challenging non-conference teams other than FSU and Miami (to whatever extent they're still a challenge). There was a rumor earlier this summer about facing TCU instead of CSU, but that apparently was never on the table. Utah was, and the deal fell through. Oh well. Maybe we'll get to see Jordan Reed play some in the fourth quarter.